Ask anyone involved with Boy Scout Troop 345 about Edward Kent, and the responses might overwhelm — there just don’t seem to be enough superlatives to describe the man who will soon turn 100.
Introduced to scouting in 1954 while serving with the military in Japan, Kent continues to be involved with the organization which he describes as offering everything he enjoys: hiking, camping and much more.
“It’s kind of selfish in a way,” he said recently, with a smile.
“Talk about a man of humility,” said Mark Hiers, who has known Kent since Hiers was 11 years old, and is now himself a father of two children. “Mr. Kent made an impact on me — a huge, huge impact.”
“[Kent] calls me his third son,” said Randy Andrews, who has been involved with the scouts since age 12 and still serves in leadership positions. “He’s made a huge impact on my life.”
Andrews and Hiers, who both describe their relationship with Kent as “like grandsons,” were part of a group of nearly 20 men and women gathered earlier this month to continue work on the canoe paddles they’re making for a November Suwannee River canoe trip. The fact that it was raining that Monday night meant nothing.
The canoe trips are a twice-a-year outing, with some 25 to 30 participants enjoying a weekend camping celebration. The next trip, planned for Nov. 12, will be really big, as it is scheduled on Kent’s 100th birthday. The weekend outings, Andrews explained, are held on Kent’s birthday and half birthday.
The participants were patterning their paddles after the one Kent created in the 1970s. He shortened the length and made a wider blade, he explains, using Atlantic White Cedar and mahogany. The current paddles are made of basswood and mahogany.
But the talented craftsman has not limited his assistance to just canoe paddles. He’s also worked with those completing a variety of Eagle projects at the Ximenez-Fatio House, Fort Mose, Anastasia State Park, the Lighthouse … the list goes on and on.
“Probably 10 years ago we convinced him to teach us how to do it,” Andrews says of the paddle-carving sessions. Participants, who gather in Kent’s garage, south of St. Augustine Beach for the weekly sessions, are all related to scouting in some way. Canoeing, Andrews adds, is an important part of Troop 345, now sponsored by Elks Lodge No. 829. Patrick Naughton is the current scout master.
The troop purchased its first six canoes in 1973 with a donation of some $2,000. Today, the troop has 11 canoes and they’re “all in great shape,” Andrews adds.
Kent’s home is a treasure trove of items he has made throughout his lifetime. An American eagle is the centerpiece over the living room fireplace, and on each side stand hand-crafted dulcimers. The living room is furnished, Andrews points out, with so much of Kent’s handiwork — a coffee table, end tables and more. And in one corner rests a sleek surfboard Kent made for his son, Bill, who lives in Charleston, S.C. Daughter Marjorie Rowe resides in Flagler Estates. Two other sons are deceased as is his wife, Thelma “Pat” Kent. (As to the number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his quick reply is, “I don’t know. I’ve got at least 10 great-grandchildren, and probably the same number of grandchildren!”)
Kent says he learned a little about woodcraft in high school and in the years after, which included a 20-year career in the U.S. Army that included service in the Army Air Corps in World War II and participating in the glider landing in France.
“[Woodworking] was one of those things you learned during the Depression,” Kent explained. “If you needed something you made it because you had no money to buy it.”
“He’s carved birds for years,” Andrews adds. “They look like taxidermy work. They’re so realistic.”
After retirement from the Army, the Kent family moved to St. Augustine and Kent went to work for the National Park Service, which eventually included the position of chief of maintenance for Fort Matanzas, Castillo de San Marcos and, for a time, Fort Caroline.
“Mr. Kent is an angel” said Bunny Geores, who was the first female scoutmaster for Troop 345. The mother of four sons, all of whom attained their Eagle ranking, Geores was one of those making her personal canoe paddle. “I go on every canoe trip they go on.”
“Mr. Kent,” Geores concluded, “is the best stand-up father of everybody. I love him to death.”